From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Panel Finds Bible Reading by Presbyterians Is Sporadic
04 May 1996 16:06:08
96118 Panel Finds Bible Reading by Presbyterians Is Sporadic
by Jerry L. Van Marter
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--In a survey that revealed wide disparities between
Presbyterian ministers and laypersons, the Research Services office of the
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has found that members of the church read the
Bible infrequently, if at all.
According to the Presbyterian Panel -- a random sample of several
thousand Presbyterians in four groups: members, elders, pastors and
specialized clergy -- few members (12 percent) or elders (5 percent)
reported no individual Bible reading during the year preceding the February
However, 45 percent of both samples said they read the Bible
individually "rarely," "at times but no regular pattern" or "once a month
or less." Added to the members (4 percent) and elders (6 percent) who
answered "once every 2-3 weeks," clear majorities of both samples -- 62
percent of members and 56 percent of elders -- reported no or infrequent
individual Bible reading.
By contrast, almost two-thirds of pastors and nearly half of
specialized clergy responded that they read the Bible "daily" or "almost
About one-third of members, 40 percent of elders and 79 percent of
pastors reported that they participated in a Bible study group that met at
least monthly. A majority of members said they never read the Bible in a
group context outside worship.
And except for during Christian holidays, few panelists reported any
Bible reading in a family context. For example, only 6 percent of members
and 5 percent of elders reported reading the Bible at family mealtimes.
About one-fifth of both samples said they read the Bible at family
mealtimes "occasionally," while less than 20 percent of both groups said
they have a regular family Bible study time.
Pastors and specialized clergy reported more frequent Bible reading
with their families, but still less than their reading in church groups.
Fifty-nine percent of pastors reported participating in Bible study with
church groups, but only 34 percent said they participate in family Bible
reading on a regular basis. Of the specialized clergy, 29 percent reported
family Bible reading.
Ministers and laypersons vary in the version of the Bible they prefer
to read. Among ministers only two versions are widely preferred: the
Revised or New Revised Standard Version (67 percent of pastors and 69
percent of specialized clergy) and the New International Version (18 and 12
percent, respectively). No other translation is preferred by more than 4
percent of either group.
Laypersons are much more diverse in their preferences, according to
the Panel. While a fourth of members and elders prefer the RSV/NRSV, even
more -- 28 percent -- prefer the King James Version. Just under a fifth (19
percent) prefer the New International Version, and 8 percent prefer Today's
English or "Good News" versions.
Presbyterian Bible readers also divide their reading time equally
between the Old and New Testaments. About two-thirds of each group,
ranging from 63 percent of elders to 70 percent of pastors, chose "I have
read about equally from both the Old and New Testaments" when asked to
describe the content of their Bible reading.
In choosing what to read in the Bible, two-thirds of all groups
indicated that they are most apt to simply choose a passage at random. The
other prominent method is to pick a specific book of the Bible and read it
all the way through. About half of each group cited that method of
deciding what to read in the Bible.
Members spend less time in a typical Bible reading session (15-44
minutes) than pastors, about half of whom said they spend an hour or more
in a typical reading session.
Bible reading appears directly related to age and belief in the
infallibility of the Bible, according to the survey. More than half of
members over the age of 70 reported reading the Bible at least once a week.
Only 29 percent of members under 40 said they read the Bible at least
An earlier Presbyterian Panel survey asked respondents to agree or
disagree with the question, "As written in the original language, the Bible
is infallible." Of the members who agreed with that statement, 35 percent
indicated that they read the Bible daily, while only 10 percent of those
who disagreed with biblical infallibility reported that they read the Bible
Only 5 percent of the members who believed in biblical infallibility
said they never read the Bible, while 20 percent of members who disagreed
with the biblical infallibility question said they never read the Bible.
Panelists were asked to indicate why they read the Bible. The choices
were "inspiration," "guidance," "information," "comfort" and
"entertainment." For all groups, the highest rated response was
"inspiration" (74 percent of members and elders, 90 percent of pastors and
86 percent of specialized clergy). Next in order of importance were
"guidance," "information" and "comfort."
Only 7 percent of members and pastors and 6 percent of elders and
specialized clergy said they read the Bible for "entertainment."
For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
phone 502-569-5504 fax 502-569-8073
E-mail PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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